Breastfeeding within an hour after birth is crucial

Dubai - 78 million babies - or every three in five babies - are not breastfed within the first hour of life.


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Sat 4 Aug 2018, 11:18 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Aug 2018, 8:37 AM

Experts are citing the importance of breastfeeding within one hour of birth during the World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated from August 1 to 7 every year, to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. 
A new report by United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals that an estimated 78 million babies - or every three in five babies - are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding. Most of these babies are born in low and middle-income countries.
The report notes that newborns who breastfeed in the first hour of life are significantly more likely to survive. Even a delay of a few hours after birth could result in life-threatening consequences. Skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulate the mother's production of breastmilk, including colostrum, also called the baby's 'first vaccine', which is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies.
In the eastern Mediterranean region, the practice of breastfeeding in the first hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding for two years is low, which impacts child growth and survival and is associated with high rates of stunting, wasting, overweight and death in children under five.
Improving these practices, promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding through the baby-friendly hospital initiative as well as literacy and birth spacing, can help improve survival of children and mothers in the region.
"This is particularly important for low and middle-income countries and communities in the eastern Mediterranean region, which are facing chronic emergencies, where malnutrition, neonatal and infant deaths are high. Promoting optimal breastfeeding practices can improve child survival rates and move countries closer to achieving the health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Breastfeeding is also one of the most cost-effective interventions for preventing obesity, communicable and non-communicable diseases," said Dr Ahmed Almandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean region.
"When it comes to the start of breastfeeding, timing is everything. In many countries, it can even be a matter of life or death," said Henrietta H. Fore, Unicef executive director. "Yet each year, millions of newborns miss out on the benefits of early breastfeeding and the reasons - all too often - are things we can change. Mothers simply don't receive enough support to breastfeed within those crucial minutes after birth, even from medical personnel at health facilities."
Despite the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding, too many newborns are left waiting too long for different reasons. These include feeding newborns food or drinks. Common practices such as discarding colostrum, an elder feeding the baby honey or health professionals giving the newborn a specific liquid, such as sugar water or infant formula, delay a newborn's first critical contact with his or her mother.
The rise in elective C-sections
In Egypt, caesarean section rates more than doubled between 2005 and 2014, increasing from 20 per cent to 52 per cent. During the same period, the rates of early initiation of breastfeeding decreased from 40 per cent to 27 per cent. A study across 51 countries noted that early initiation rates were significantly lower among newborns delivered by caesarean section. In Egypt, only 19 per cent of babies born by C-section were breastfed in the first hour after birth, compared to 39 per cent of babies born by natural delivery.
There are gaps in the quality of care provided to mothers and newborns. The presence of a skilled birth attendant does not seem to affect rates of early breastfeeding, according to the report. Across 58 countries between 2005 and 2017, deliveries at health institutions grew by 18 per cent, while early initiation rates increased by six per cent. In many cases, babies are separated from their mothers immediately after birth and guidance from health workers is limited.

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